View Full Version : Murphy bit my 3 year old

Cara's Mum
7th April 2009, 01:40 PM
I am shocked and devastated to be even writing this but yesterday Murphy bit my 3 year old little boy in what seems to be an unprovoked attack. He bit him on the face just a millimetre away from his eye and left a bite mark that is still visible today.

What happened was this - I was in the kitchen with my son. He wandered into the hall and gave Murphy a hug.... nothing abnormal in that, they are always playing with each other. Murphy went into the sitting room and jumped up on the sofa... my son ran in after him (again nothing unusual) and hopped up beside him. He didnt hurt him or land on him - but Murphy just turned and went for him without warning. I can only surmise that he got a fright??

He is well used to children (we have two toddlers - aged 3 and 13 months). Murphy himself is 22 months old - we got him for my son's 2nd birthday. He has been reared with them... and we have always been delighted at how well our son and Murphy get on.

Murphy can be quite bossy but up to now if one of the children is doing something he doesnt like he generally just gives a low growl as a warning and my son knows to leave him alone, or else we intervene and give Murphy his space. He has snapped once or twice but each time it was because the warning signals hadnt been heard/read properly.

I dont quite honestly know what to do. My husband phoned the vet this morning and he said that the laws of probability are that he will bite again. He said we have three options... the first are to have him put down, the second to get him rehomed where there are no small kids and the third is to leave him in the garden all day and only take him in at night when the kids are in bed (not really a fair option on the dog to be honest).

We are heartbroken at the thought of having to give him up (getting him put down isnt an option). He is a part of the family.... really like a third child. However I am equally afraid that he could bite again.... and this time do some real harm, either to our children or to a stranger... and I could never forgive myself for not taking heed of this warning shot. I feel now that I cant trust him.

Has anyone got any idea whatsoever about anything else we can do?

I understand that kids can antagonise dogs and we have instilled in our son (and now our baby daughter too) about being gentle with the dog etc etc. Murphy has grown up with both of our children and is well used to noise, sudden movements etc. Thats why I find what happened so hard to accept.

Any advise would be much appreciated.

Thank you.

7th April 2009, 02:58 PM
I am sorry but I firmly feel your vet is TOTALLY wrong and offering extreme and very unfortunate advice. Under no circumstances should a dog who has bitten in this particular situation EVER be an immediate candidate to be put down!! The vet really needs to talk to some trainers to improve his understanding of what happened and why. I am sure Dog Training Ireland would be happy to meet with this practice and discuss thee kinds of behaviour issues. They should almost NEVER result in the death of a dog!!

I am going to PM you my phone number; please give me a call to discuss this situation.

The problem is one of management. It is very important to understand that young children should never have free access to dogs and vice versa. Small kids are way too young to truly understand how to be kind and safe around animals on their own. It is like expecting them to know never to hurt themselves or get into dangerous situations -- a parent simply cannot leave this to the children to judge and manage for themselves when under a certain age (just as you wouldn't leave kids this age to play alone with a box of knives and scissors -- a dog has a mouth full of the same!). The chance of a bite is VERY high if kids can go up and hug dogs in particular! Most dog bites are to the face of young children they know -- exactly because small kids hug dogs, forgetting they are not stuffed toys, and dogs do NOT like being hugged -- only the most tolerant of dogs will accept this over and over. In dog language this is a rude invasion of their territory and very threatening, and a dog that has in the past had to growl to warn children off may reach a point -- as Murphy seems to have done -- where biting is the next step. A dog would manage puppies or other dogs this way. It has no other way of saying how frustrated and bothered it is to humans, humans failed to read Murphy's dog language messages, and Murphy would have expressed typical behaviour here -- previous warnings didn't stop the behaviour so the next step was to bite. The growling was a sign of a serious problem and shouldn't ever be allowed to happen -- dogs should not be left the task of having to warn off children as this is so terribly dangerous! The kids need to be kept from ever annoying a dog in this way. But we as adults too easily forget how small kids see dogs, and how dogs see what can be very scary, small children.

In short: bites to small kids must always be seen as a LIKELY risk that needs to be avoided through careful management at ALL times. :thmbsup:

Every trainer will state this categorically -- you simply must keep small kids (especially babies and toddlers!) and dogs separated -- by using x-pens or babygates -- kids really only begin to get any 'dog sense' around dogs by age 7 or older. They are just too young to be expected to know how to act before then. You also as you rightly note, cannot just put a cavalier out in the back garden to live -- this is cruel advice. It would be better to rehome if this seems the only choice. I am saddened that a vet would recommend such an option which a vet should know would hugely increase the likelihood of follow-on behaviour problems that would end with many frustrated families destroying their dog or leaving it at the pound because of increased probems that are not the dog's fault and totally avoidable.

Please read these, which will give you some perspective:


So, this was really a normal if dangerous and unwanted reaction from a frustrated dog who shouldn't be left with kids able to approach him in this way. The kids and dog need to be kept apart except for supervised interactions with kids seated on the floor and you right there at arm's reach to manage the interactions. Ignore what your vet said -- this is not a dog that is any more likely to bite again than any other dog on the planet. It has not shown aggression but fear and frustration when it felt no other choice but to move to a bite. But that means leaving him as. with kids able to go up to him any time they like, especially out of your sight, risks ending up with him continuing to bite your or other kids -- and ending up dead -- or you taking firm control of how you *manage* the situation (not just your dog). The choice then is to consider whether you will be able to manage a dog and the kids going forward, as noted above and in the links offered, or after careful thought, whether to rehome and wait til the kids are all older than 7 or so to consider a dog. There is nothing wrong in finding this to be the case -- managing a dog and small children is a major task with heavy responsibilities and it's one of the reasons I really grill rescue dog applicants with small kids as they generally totally underestimate how much extra time managing the dog and kids will take, and for how many years this must be done. It gets much easier when children are older and more in control of their actions and can interact more safely with a dog. I can talk you through options and am happy to help if you feel you do need to rehome.

Cara's Mum
7th April 2009, 04:29 PM
Thanks for all that information and advise Karlin. I would also really appreciate your phone number so that either I or my husband could talk to you later.

Your post has given me a lot more hope that I had earlier... getting rid of Murphy really would be a last resort.

Whilst we do use a stair gate to keep the children and the dog apart when we arent right there on the spot, we were more than happy to leave Murphy and the children in the same area (ie the run of downstairs) once we are there too. From now on that obviously has to change.

Murphy was crate trained when he was younger but we are tight for space and the crate had to go.

We also attended puppy training classes in DTI when he was about 7 months old.

Anyhow.... thank you once again and we will take your advise and go from here.

New rules for everyone.

7th April 2009, 07:38 PM
Give Tara at DTI a call -- or rather PM her first and I know she will come back to you -- she can give you some direct informed advice. :)

I will PM over my number as well.

8th April 2009, 05:25 PM
I just wanted to add that I am sorry to read this. I think I would have to check-out a new vet choice too. Two of the suggestions are not options. Put him down or leave him outside!:bang:

It sounds like you are seeking good advice. Small kids and dogs are very unpredictable. The combo together can be a disaster in a minute. I speak from experience in that my Parent's had a westie when my girl's were little.

One day, my daughter accidentally tripped over a rug coming into their house and feel hitting the back of the dogs leg. She immediately turned around and bit my daughter. At the time, my parent's didn't realize that she probably had come from a puppy mill and was hit on her hide legs all the time for correction.

The pediatrician made us feel like extremely bad parent's that we would even let this happen. I was at work and the two had grown up together.

Learn from the warning now, and I feel confident that you can put in measures and training until your little ones are older. Good Luck, I know how upset your are.

9th April 2009, 06:40 PM
I have a 3 YO as well, and although we always stress "gentle" etc, he is simply too rough (not on purpose, but by design!) to be allowed with the dogs when I am not there in the same room with him.

Luckily, my dogs follow me around like a shadow, so that doesn't happen. The dogs are never allowed in the back bedrooms (his room and a guest room/playroom) that are separated from the rest of the house with a baby gate, and my home is very open so I can see what's going on at all times. When he is eating or snacking in the family room, I put the dogs on the back porch. When he is playing, the dogs stay with me. When we're all playing together, I can monitor every move they all make.

If one of my dogs leaves me when he is elsewhere in the house, I call them back to me. I find it's easier to keep the dogs at my side at all times, than my son!

I have always said that if one of the dogs bit Owen, I would understand. In most cases, it would have been provoked and you can't blame a dog for defending himself when he feels he has no other choice. I would *never* even consider having one of mine pts if this were to happen. Our cat has bit him before b/c a 3 YO does not know how to interpret "warning" signs that an animal has "had enough."

I hope you can manage- it's really not hard as long as you understand that your dog cannot be with your kids if you are not IN THE SAME ROOM and playing with all of them at the same time.

Cara's Mum
9th April 2009, 07:30 PM
Thank you for the replies.

The shock and fright has worn off and now I have gone more or less into practicality mode! A bit late now .... but better late than never.

I have instigated a few new house rules.... the main ones being that if I or my husband are not in the actual room supervising the kids and dog, then the dog isnt allowed be with the children. The bite happened in a matter of seconds so I am acutely aware now (unfortunately) of the importance of supervision at all times. I know now that no matter how loving and gentle a dog Murphy is.... he too has his limits.

Murphy is spending more time in the kitchen behind the stair gate.... but so far he isnt complaining.

We are hopeful that this was indeed a once off incident..... please God we have all learnt from it and can stop anything like this happening again.

Thanks once again. :)

9th April 2009, 08:47 PM
He is probably not complaining because he's happy to be away from your kids! ;) Even Cavaliers need a break (from people) every now and again.

You guys will be just fine, it sounds like you have a handle on the situation. I have found especially when my son starts "chasing" the animals, a major separation is in order. It even makes MY blood pressure rise! Too much chaos going on at a time....